Nonprofit Corner: Restoring Joy to Abuse Victims
When actress Mariska Hargitay started playing a sexual-assault detective on TV in “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” in 1999, she began to get mail full of stories of personal abuse.
“She trained for the role at a rape-crisis shelter,” explains Kata Issari, 54, executive director of the Hawaii region of Joyful Heart Foundation, “and she was shocked at the statistics of sexual abuse and wondered why everyone wasn’t talking about these issues.”
Hargitay founded Joyful Heart in 2004 in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island, a place she would visit for its spiritual healing power. “In fact, some of our initial JHF retreats replicated her experiences in Kailua-Kona – such as yoga, art therapy or time in nature,” according to Issari, herself a witness to domestic violence when she was a child.
Issari has worked in the field of sexual and domestic assault for nearly 35 years. When JHF relocated its Kona office to Honolulu in 2011, Issari became its first executive director, with a staff of five. The nonprofit also has a national presence in New York and L.A.
“What drew me to Joyful Heart was its inclusivity in addressing issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. Many organizations will only work on one of those issues, yet the reality for victims is that they’re not just survivors of only one of those crimes.
“The other thing that excites me about Joyful Heart is it has a very holistic approach, paying attention to mind, body and spirit.”
Although the organization leaves most direct services to partner agencies, it does provide healing workshops to survivors, as well as to other healers who also suffer a form of trauma as part of their work supporting victims of violence.
JHF also engages in educational programs with nonprofit and government partners to end domestic abuse and sexual assault in the state, and it advocates with its partners to seek justice for survivors – specifically to end the backlog of untested rape kits.
And, Issari points out, JHF does not apply for government grants, but raises money only from private sources, so as not to compete for public funding with other nonprofits.